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COMM 220: Communication and Social Relationships (O'Connor)

This guide is dedicated to the Relationships in Pop Culture and Scholarship Group Annotated Bib/Research/Poster Assignment.

Popular Vs. Academic/Scholarly (Peer-Review)

Scholarly journal articles differ from magazines/newspapers in that they are written by and for scholars (and not for the general public).  See the following table to help your distinguish between popular and scholarly articles:

Popular Articles (Magazines/Newspapers) Scholarly Articles (Journals)
Written by journalists, columnists, reporters, bloggers, etc. Written by scholars, academics, and researchers.
Written for non-experts and the casually interested. Written for (and by) those with expertise in the field.
Sometimes referenced, but rarely with academic/scholarly sources. Thoroughly referenced, with credible and reputable sources.
Written to entertain, inform, provoke, and make money. Written to advance scholarship and academic knowledge.
Usually reviewed by an editor, though freelance work may be un-reviewed. Usually reviewed by academics and scholars (hence “peer-review”).
Examples: Time, Newsweek Global, National Geographic, The New Yorker Examples: Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Cinema Journal, American Journal of Education, Nature

There are some other quick indicators that you can look at to help distinguish between a scholarly and a popular source.  One of the first indicators will be the article's title -- a scholarly work will usually squeeze a lot of keywords into its title while a popular work will tend to be much more general or lead with a provocative question.  A reference list (bibliography/works cited) is also usually an indicator of an academic/scholarly work, though often popular news articles will contain links throughout the text.  The language of a scholarly work may also contain a lot of discipline-specific jargon, and may be denser than the language used in popular works intended to be read by a wide audience. Popular works tend to feature more photographs and pictures, while scholarly works may feature more diagrams. You might also ask yourself a question like, "Would I read this on the bus?" Of course, maybe you would study on the bus, but the general idea is to ask whether the source seems like a casual read or not.

Below is a video explaining the difference (and importance of knowing the difference!) between popular and scholarly articles.  I've also included 5 pairs of popular and scholarly articles, where each pair discusses the exact same research study, but in very different ways.  Notice how short and general the popular articles are, while the scholarly articles are extremely detailed and contain a number of references.  *Note: I didn't make this video but am borrowing from a video used at Illinois College's Schewe Library (my previous library) that was itself stitched together from two other videos by different libraries... they already explained it better than I ever could!*

Primary Vs. Secondary

Primary Sources:

Primary sources are original documents, such as interviews, letters, original research findings, works of art, legal documents, and more. They are first hand accounts of an event that has happened, and involves someone who has a direct connection with the event or work. 


  • Work of art (i.e. painting, novels, plays, photographs, music, etc.)
  • Interviews and oral histories 
  • Letters and diaries
  • Original research articles (articles reporting new information and results, NOT a review of others' research)
  • Speeches
  • Etc.

Secondary Sources:

Secondary sources are a report or analysis of something that has already happened. They are an interpretation of a primary source. 


  • Literature review
  • Works of criticism and interpretation
  • Biographies
  • Reference books 
  • Descriptions of artistic works
  • Etc.

Newspaper Articles:

Although newspaper articles are typically secondary sources, some are primary; it can be confusing.  If the newspaper article is reporting on a recent event, then it would be considered primary. If it's reporting on either something that has happened in the past, or drawing in information from other sources, it would be secondary. 


A newspaper article from 1912 that reports on the sinking of the Titanic would be a primary source since it's an article from the time the event happened.

A newspaper article from 2019 reporting on the results of the presidential election of 2016 would be a secondary event since it's reporting on something that has already happened.